David Leinweber’s formula is simple: Create an umbrella organization to amplify the voice of the local outdoor recreation industry; use that collective voice to grow the number of outdoor recreation enthusiasts; and create more jobs in the industry while planting seeds for future economic development.
Leinweber is the owner of Westside fishing retailer Angler’s Covey, and he founded the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance — initially meant to be a networking group for outdoor recreation businesses — as the Outdoor Recreation Industry Affiliation in early 2016. He has since changed its name and expanded the intent for the organization.
With the plethora of outdoor opportunities at the city’s doorstep, Leinweber said, the area should be collaborating more effectively to maximize its effect on the region.
He is leading the formation of a trade group meant to promote and grow outdoor recreation opportunities in the region, to include organizing the first-ever “State of the Outdoors” event scheduled for March 20 at the City Auditorium, where representatives from the state, county and municipal level will discuss the merits of the outdoor recreation industry.
In the Springs, hosting an outdoor recreation industry event just makes sense, said Leinweber.
“We need to be featuring outdoor recreation because it’s what makes us different and unique,” he said, adding his mission of promoting the outdoors has paralleled similar missions at other organizations, such as El Pomar’s Heritage Series, which explores the region’s outdoor roots.
And the organization of the Springs event seems exceptionally timely as Denver is currently attempting to attract a larger event, the Outdoor Retailers trade show, which draws $45 million and 40,000 visitors annually. That event’s organizers are looking for a new home after they couldn’t reach an agreement with Utah officials about that state government’s stance on public lands.
“Denver appears to be making an aggressive bid for the show,” reports the Salt Lake City Tribune. “Conservation Colorado placed a half-page ad in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News on Wednesday, urging the event to move to Colorado.
“We have stronger beer. We have taller peaks. We have higher recreation,” the ad reads. “‘But most of all, we love our public lands. … We have honored and fought for our public lands by defeating land seizure bills and embracing new national monuments. … Colorado knows protecting public lands is just good business.”
Karen Palus, the city’s director of parks, recreation and cultural services, said the city has been working with Leinweber to achieve his vision.
“We’re happy to partner in dialogue with him, and we’ve participated in some of these initial meetings,” Palus said, and the city will have a presence at the State of the Outdoors event.
“Our goal was to get the business community to come and hear more about what’s happening in [the outdoor recreation] industry,” she said, adding Mayor John Suthers and a representative from the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC will also speak.
“We want to share the message of the economic benefits that Parks and Recreation has in the Springs,” she said.
Data has shown Colorado Springs has a dense population of “ultra-users” of its park system, Palus said.
“Not elite athletes, but folks like you and I who are in the parks a lot — a number of days a week — and that drives the health value of those parks up considerably,” she said. “But if we’re hearing anything about outdoor recreation, it’s that our parks are being loved to death. We need to make sure there are plenty of appropriate spaces.”
Hannah Parsons, economic development officer with the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, said, with the exception of ski resorts, outdoor industries have been slowly emerging as powerful economic drivers for the state.
“We knew that to be true, at least anecdotally, in Colorado Springs,” Parsons said.
The chamber and EDC will be reviewing the region’s core industries the first half of this year, and outdoor recreation, pending demand and labor pools, could become an area of focus, she said. Even if it isn’t overtly central to the Chamber & EDC’s development plans, Parsons said outdoor recreation will always be a driving factor for many relocating or expanding organizations looking for quality-of-life intangibles.
“A lot of our work right now is gearing to help support talent recruitment and retention, and outdoor recreation certainly helps support that,” Parsons said.
When Andy Vick took the job as executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, the arts community was largely operating in silos. While not employed in outdoor recreation, Vick will be speaking at the State of the Outdoors event about the many hurdles he encountered in the arts community that also face the outdoor recreation industry.
“I do see a lot of parallels, and I think we can be a good model for [the PPORA],” Vick said. “I see the cultural office as a framework.”
Like the arts community, Vick said disparate recreational businesses would benefit from a unified voice.
“They will have a much better chance of succeeding if there’s an infrastructure in place around which they can build their business and have confidence that infrastructure exists to act as their advocate in the political sector, the business community and to be a conduit and connector from their sector to other sectors,” Vick said. “That’s exactly what we do with the cultural office.”
The challenge is funding COPPeR, as the cultural office doesn’t utilize a membership model or dues, he said.
“We have to fund from a variety of sources,” he said, to include fundraising activities and grant applications.
Leinweber said he is already feeling the crunch of creating a business alliance and managing his retail operations full time, and will likely have to hire help to expand PPORA.
“This is a full-time job for the three of us here,” Vick said of COPPeR. “We know of other things we would like to do if we had more resources.
“It can pull you away from your business. If [PPORA] is going to be successful, they will have to find resources and develop a sustainable funding model to pay for staff to focus on this full time.”
Leinweber said he already has a significant piece of the region’s fly-fishing market, so growing business from the available population isn’t likely to increase his share by much. But if he can grow the number of fly-fishing enthusiasts, or even get entire companies to relocate to Colorado Springs because of the outdoor lifestyle, market shares increase for everyone.
“I need more employees in the city making $120,000 to come and buy my $800 fly rods. I sell $100 rods too, but I need outdoor enthusiasts. If I can grow the pool, and I’m already a large share of the fly-fishing [market], it benefits me as a business.
“It’s good here,” Leinweber said of southern Colorado’s outdoor recreation scene. “But how do we get it to extraordinary? We can. It’s within our reach to make it extraordinary.”
Outdoor recreation: State impact
total economic impact
of outdoor recreation
Resident hunting licenses
Resident fishing licenses
Non-resident hunting licenses
Non-resident fishing licenses
Source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife